Emotional Range, Yo

(Kyrie from Missa Mille Regretz, Cristóbal de Morales)

Doug Chaplin challenges churches to make space for acknowledging the dark side of life in our public worship, tracking the evolution of Psalms 42–43 and its progressive lessening of sorrow and lament:

I’m well aware this is part of a major shift in the wider culture as much as in the church. ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’ Nonetheless, with for example, suicide being one of the most common causes of death among teenagers, with growing pressure on the law for assisted suicide to help those who find their suffering intolerable, and with the so-called ‘problem of evil’ presented as one of the more compelling reasons not to believe in God – with all that and more you might think there are some good reasons for churches to learn to make space for sadness, discipline, struggle and lament in their worship.

I, too, hope hymn writers will write hymns that reflect this need both lyrically and musically, without glossing over the troubles of life. This has certainly been done in the past: William Byrd, for example, wrote very differently for Tristitia et anxietas, for Sing joyfully (Ps 81.1–4) and for his sublime five-voice Agnus Dei. Of course, we can start with the reintroduction of Psalms expressing feelings outside of our usual repertoire (with antiphonal comments proclaiming their fulfilment in Christ!) and recognition of anger in God. Yes, the Christ is risen from the dead, but life jolts us into awareness of the ‘not-yet’ that accompanies this ‘already’.

P.S. One of the hymns we sang in church on Sunday sounded so bouncily Victorian, like carnival music for a merry-go-round, and it wasn’t even easy to sing. I think someone needs to set that hymn to new music.

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